|Dr. Robert Puff|
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#1801 - Tuesday, May 18, 2004 - Editor: Jerry
Regarding this issue
"He gave the show a ridiculous name because
if people couldn't get past it, he didn't want them
I've been mentoring a 20 year old young lady for the last several months and she has mentioned her interest in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
"Yeah,' I said to her, "I saw that movie. It was pretty good."
"The movie sucked," she said. "I mean the tv series."
"Oh," I said, "there's a tv series?"
This young lady not only conveyed her enthusiasm for the show and has demonstrated the gained wisdom, but inspired me to do some research. This issue of the Highlights offers glimpses of my findings.
Conservative Girl: "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?"
Buffy: "Uh, you know I meant to, and then I just got really busy."
"During its seven-season run (ending in May 2003), Buffy never had big ratings. But it did win critics' raves and an aggressively loyal following that made it a cultural phenomenon. In perhaps exactly the reaction creator Joss Whedon wanted from his viewers, fans didn't just watch episodesthey devoured and digested them.
...the show, created by an avowed atheist, ...
abounds in Buddhist parallels.
Buddhism begins with the idea that all life is
suffering, she says, while Buffy puts it in 21st
century vernacular: "Life sucks."
Buffy and Angel are like "bodhisattvas" or
who have achieved enlightenment but forgo
personal salvation to help others, she says. In
Buddhist and Buffy universes, it is not necessary
to believe in a personal god to be a moral
person. All that is required is the courage to
make tough choices and then accept the
Angel, by the way, is a vampire with a soul --
meaning that he remembers his past evil and
fights against it. After he and Buffy kiss for
the first time, he seems speechless, says
Kuykendall. Buffy walks away and the camera pulls
back to show that Angel actually is gasping in
pain because Buffys crucifix had fallen against
his throat and burned him rather badly. But he
hadnt pulled away.
(Mormon leader Ken) Kuykendall was "blown
by the shows depiction of a simple idea: "love
hurts," he says. "You make sacrifices for the one
Seeing Mel Gibsons "The Passion of the Christ"
made him feel he could never be as
self-sacrificing as Jesus, he says. "But I can be
Buffy the vampire slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar, takes down a foe. The character in the popular TV series exemplified virtues that could inspire people of many faiths, from Christianity to Buddhism, say religious experts.
There is a scholarly journal called Slayage:
The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies at
The following introduces a paper analyzing Buddhist themes in the Buffyverse. I haven't found the entire paper online:
While several scholars have explored the
Christian themes of Buffy, noting the importance
of Christian iconography and symbolism in the
Buffyverse, this presentation argues that the
show's heart is profoundly (albeit unconsciously)
more Buddhist than Christian. Buffy and Buddhism
both begin with the same understanding: that, as
the First Noble Truth states, "life is suffering"
(or, as Buffy puts it, life can sometimes suck
beyond the telling of it). While Buffy appeals to
general Buddhist principles such as the primacy
of direct experience and the law of karma, it
also calls upon specific Buddhist traditions in
eclectic ways, representing a selective pastiche
of various Buddhist ideas. For example, as in
Tibetan Buddhism, Buffy employs an elaborate
pantheon of supernatural beings, an emphasis on
tantric knowledge, and a notion of inherited
supernatural abilities in certain "chosen"
individuals. And like all Mahayana and Vajrayana
Buddhist traditions, the concept of the
bodhisattva-an individual who renounces
personal nirvana in the interest of extending
enlightenment to all sentient beings--is
paramount on both Buffy and Angel. Drawing on the
work of James William Coleman, this paper
analyzes the Buddhist themes in the Buffyverse,
with special attention to where Buffy departs
from Buddhist tradition in keeping with the mores
of what Lopez calls the "new American Buddhism"
(e.g. its rejection of the guru-disciple
hierarchy in favor of a more egalitarian
mentoring relationship between Buffy and Giles,
or its subordination of the traditional Buddhist
notion of reincarnation in favor of more typical
American ideas of heaven and hell).
To show the level of scholarship and the depths probed by BtVS, the following is excerpted from an article in Slayage, Issue #3, June 2001.
Aimee Fifarek (Louisiana State University), "Mind and Heart with Spirit Joined": The Buffyverse as an Information System
What Do You Know? The Supernatural Meme
(3) A system is defined as a set of
interdependent components (people, materials,
machines, etc.) united to serve a common purpose.
A system has distinct boundaries, which
differentiate it from its environment. In the
case of an information system, it processes
inputs like facts, observations, and data, to
produce outputs, like knowledge. As Buffy, Giles,
Willow, and Xander work together they form their
own information system. They identify demonic
activity (inputs), try to understand it using
books, the Internet, magic, and other information
gathering techniques (processing) to kill the
demons or, at least, rescue the innocent
(outputs). They also maintain a boundary that
separates them from those who dont know of the
reality of the supernatural (environment).
(4) One of the most revolutionary, and hotly
contested, ideas to link evolution and
information is the idea of the meme. Richard
Dawkins, in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene,
devoted a chapter to Memes: The New
Replicators. Dawkins was interested in
transferring into the cultural realm his idea of
the gene as a unit which copies itself and,
through copying errors, leads to evolution. This
unit of cultural transmission (192) he called a
(5) Like genes, memes are replicators; their
purpose is to infect (i.e. reproduce in) other
hosts to ensure their survival. Selfish genes
(and, by extension, memes) are those that have
no foresight (Dawkins 200), that reproduce
themselves often at the expense of their hosts
life. The degree to which a meme can infect a
wide variety of hosts is the measure of its
survival value. But what makes a meme, in the
context of this informational Darwinism, fitter
than all the rest?
What is it about the idea . . . that gives it its
stability and penetrance in the cultural
environment? The survival value of the . . . meme
in the meme pool results from its great
psychological appeal. It provides a superficially
plausible answer to deep and troubling questions
about existence. (Dawkins 193)
Dawkins is referring specifically to the idea of
god, saying that the reason the meme of an
unknowable creator/protector has propagated so
widely since the first time the idea was thought
is because it gives people comfort. Even though
they may have no tangible evidence that god
exists, they are able to carry on because the
meme gives them a way of understanding and coping
with the world around them.
Ignorance is Bliss
(6) Prior to Buffys arrival, the dominant meme
among the residents of Sunnydale was that
everything is as it appears to bethat life is
normal. Any evidence suggesting supernatural
activity is conveniently rationalized away. We
see an example of this at the end of the pilot
episode, when Cordelia tells her group of
hangers-on that the people who take over the
Bronze and start killing the students were rival
gangs. The idea that they could be vampires was
never a possibility. It is easier to rationalize
the inexplicable than to investigate it. They
cling to the normal meme because it lets them
avoid any situations that might force them to
confront a truth they are unprepared to accept.
(7) But there are a few who recognize this place
as the Hellmouth. At first only Giles knows that
the city is rife with supernatural evil, but even
he is unprepared for its extent until his
research uncovers the original name of the town:
The Spanish who first settled here called it
'Boca del Infierno'. Roughly translated,
'Hellmouth'. It's a sort of, um, portal between
this reality and the next (The Harvest, 1002).
The normal meme is obviously strong if the
residents can ignore the nature of their
(8) But this is a selfish meme, insofar as it
puts the lives of its hosts in jeopardy. To a
certain extent, ignoring the supernatural keeps
the residents safe. They do not try to dig deeper
into the strange occurrences in the cemetery, or
investigate the thefts of blood from the
hospitals (Vampire Meals-On-Wheels. The Dark
Age, 2008), so the local demons dont view them
as a threat. But they do view the humans as prey.
When the supernatural tries to take over, the
humans who have conveniently not acknowledged its
existence dont know enough to get out of its
Summer Session I
May 17th to June 4, 2004
Call Number: 02423
MTWThF 100 p.m.-400 p.m., PH 321
Dr. David Lavery, Professor, English Department
Office: PH 100C | Phone/Voice-Mail: 898-5648 | Office Hours: by appointment
from Salon.com http://dir.salon.com/ent/col/mill/2001/03/12/buffy_mom/index.html
I have to laugh when TV snobs dismiss "Buffy" as cheesy kid stuff, because, in many ways, "Buffy" is the most daring show on TV. It's daring because it defiantly and lovingly takes its tone and shape from oft-dismissed genres like daytime soaps, gothic romances, Grade-B horror flicks and supernatural fantasies, and it elevates -- no, celebrates -- these misunderstood and mistreated pop art forms. "Buffy" is an ode to misfits, a healing vision of the weird, the different and the marginalized finding their place in the world and, ultimately, saving it. And "Buffy" never takes advantage of viewers' suspension of disbelief; strange things happen in Buffy's universe, but Whedon and his writers don't screw with the mythology for the sake of convenience. Nothing ever happens here without a darned good explanation, which is more than you can say about "The X-Files."
In short, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a parable, a postmodern morality play in which Buffy is a Christ figure, her Scooby Gang is the church and the vampires and demons represent the variety of temptation and moral hazards we all encounter in life. (In the throes of their blood lust, the special effects make the vampires develop features to emphasize they are "brute beasts"). How the characters respond in these trials determines their destiny. And in the Buffyverse, self-sacrifice is the only act that can bring salvation.
So, despite the characters' put-downs, wisecracks, sexual innuendos and apparent detachment, the long-term character development on the show tells a remarkable story of the power of giving.
The show severely critiques the cliches and assumptions of modern American Christianity:
Conservative Girl: "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?"
Buffy: "Uh, you know I meant to, and then I just got really busy."
But week after week it illustrates humanity's attempt to be whole, our struggle with alienation, our longing to belong, our need for a sense of destiny and real redemption.
As Jerome, an early church father and biblical scholar, remarked: "The marrow of a parable is different from the promise of its surface." Thus Buffy is not what she appears.
The finale of season six, The Gift, concerns Buffy and her sister, Dawn. Only we know that Dawn isn't her real sister. "She was created by some mysterious monks," Buffy says. "She's me. The monks made her out of me. I hold her ... and I feel closer to her than ... (looks down, sighs) It's not just the memories they built. It's physical. Dawn ... is a part of me. The only part that I- (stops)..."
Here we have a new metaphor taking shape. The identification between Buffy and Dawn is similar to that of Christ and his Bride/Body on earth. There is an overwhelming love there. And Buffy's response will be the same as Christ's. She will give her life to save Dawn.
Bear with me here as we set the stage.
The villain this time is named Glory, a demon so powerful she is referred to as a "god." She is trapped outside her own dimension. The threat (as usual) is the total annihiliation of the world. She has captured Dawn, and Dawn's blood will be used in a ritual to open a portal briefly that will allow Glory to return to her own world. When Dawn dies, the portal will close. But the universe as we know it will be destroyed.
In a previous season, Buffy had to sacrifice Angel, the man she loves, to save the universe. But since then she's been experiencing a Garden of Gethsemane of doubt.
BUFFY: "I loved him so much. But I knew ... what was right. I don't have that any more. I don't understand. I don't know how to live in this world if these are the choices."
Buffy and her friends battle Glory and think they've won, but Dawn has been cut, blood flows and the portal begins to open. Dawn says she understands she has to die for the portal to close. But Buffy remembers that her blood and Dawn's are the same. She remembers the Spirit Guide once told her "death is your gift." She has always thought that meant she was to be a killer, a slayer of vampires. Now she sees a greater fulfillment before her.
She has a conversation with Dawn reminiscent of Christ's parting words to his disciples on the cross. "I love you. I will always love you. But this is the work that I have to do. You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other. The hardest thing in this world... is to live in it. Be brave. Live... for me." The camera catches Buffy leaping from the tower where the ritual was taking place, her outstretched arms forming a cross. The last scene is at the cemetery where the tombstone reads, "Buffy Anne Summers, 1981-2001, Beloved Sister, Devoted Friend, She Saved the World... A Lot."
Now, all that would be enough to rank Buffy as our Theologian of the Year. But the second episode of the next season finds Buffy-you guessed it- resurrected.
Her friend Willow concocts a spell to bring her back and that's when things really start getting weird. Buffy seems uncomfortable in the world again. Her friends are happy they brought her back, thinking she had been in a "hell dimension." Buffy's hands are bloodied from clawing her way out of her coffin after she woke up. They wonder if she's a zombie now, if she's really OK, and they make jokes about "jet-lag from hell."
But she confides to Spike what really happened.
BUFFY: "I was happy."
Spike looks at her in confusion.
BUFFY: "Wherever I ... was ... I was happy. At peace."
Spike stares, shocked.
BUFFY: "I knew that everyone I cared about was all right. I knew it. Time ... didn't mean anything ... nothing had form ... but I was still me, you know? (glances at him, then away) And I was warm ... and I was loved ... and I was finished. Complete. I don't understand about theology or dimensions, or ... any of it, really ... but I think I was in heaven."
Spike continues to stare at her in dismay.
BUFFY: "And now I'm not. (almost tearful) I was torn out of there. Pulled out ... by my friends. (Spike continues staring, listening) Everything here is ... hard, and bright, and violent. Everything I feel, everything I touch ... this is hell. Just getting through the next moment, and the one after that ... (softly) knowing what I've lost..."
She looks up, realizes Spike is still there. She looks uncomfortable, gets up.
BUFFY: "They can never know. Never."
To quote theologian Paul Tillich in The Shaking of the Foundations, "The new life could not really be new life if it did not come from the complete end of the old life."
Buffy has had many more adventures since that episode, and the sixth season ended with, of all things, a musical rendition of the Prayer of St. Francis playing in the background:
"Lord make me an instrument of your
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Uh... I'd like to see 'em try that on The Sopranos.
"I realize every slayer comes with an expiration date on the package," Buffy once confided. "But I want mine to be a long time from now, like a Cheeto."
We hope so too, Buffy.
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